Voltaggio: A healthy breakfast helps kids achieve in school

As a chef, I understand the importance of nutritious food in people's lives, and as a father, I am even more keenly aware of what a square meal means to my children. I became involved with Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign, which is fighting childhood hunger in Maryland and across the U.S., because I simply can't stand the reality that children in this country go hungry.

The United States has more than enough food for all Americans, and there are nutrition programs in place — such as school breakfast and free summer meals — to assist families who are struggling to put meals on the table.

However, these programs simply don't reach all the kids who need them. In our state, the Partnership to End Childhood Hunger in Maryland — a public-private partnership led by Gov. Martin O'Malley — is connecting more children and families to nutrition programs by conducting outreach and reducing barriers to participation.

One important initiative, Maryland Meals for Achievement (MMFA), provides free breakfast for all children in 228 high-need schools, including seven schools in Frederick County. This state program is a national model that makes it easier for students to get breakfast in the morning and reduces the stigma that is often attached to eating breakfast at school.

The result is a significant participation increase in the school breakfast program among participating schools. This is important because studies have shown that students who start the day with a nutritious breakfast demonstrate improved academic performance.

Despite the program's success, there are still over 500 schools in Maryland that meet the eligibility requirements for MMFA but that will not be funded this year due to budget limitations. A larger investment from the state would allow the program to provide breakfast every morning to thousands of the most vulnerable children, giving them a firmer foundation for academic success.

There are few things more important than ensuring children have what they need to be successful. In these difficult economic times, we owe it to our kids to stick up for programs like MMFA that not only provide them with a nutritious meal to start their day, but also the promise of a bright and healthy future.

Bryan Voltaggio, Frederick

The writer is chef and owner of the VOLT Restaurant.

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